Poland to lead modernization of Eastern Europe’s military forces

World Review May 12, 2015.

Shortly after my article on NATO’s modernization problem was published, Poland began to announce projects to modernize their forces and major projects to assist their neighbors; taking the lead where NATO had not.

Visegrad Four

Visegrad Four is an alliance of 4 nations – Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia – established in February 1991 to advance European integration and military, economic and energy co-operation among members.

In May 2011, the Visegrad Battle-group was formed – an independent force (not part of Nato) to be led by Poland and to be established in the first half of 2016.

Products of Poland’s Project Regina artillery modernization programme:

– Kryl Hybrid: a 155mm howitzer designed by Elbit Systems of Israel mounted on a Polish Jelcz-663 truck.

– The Krab self-propelled howitzer: Polish-built tracked chassis with a German Rheinmetal auto-loaded 155mm howitzer, mounted in a British AS90 SPA Braveheart turret.

– Langusta WR-40 MLRS: 100% locally designed and built multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), truck mounted, with a superior fire rate to the Soviet era Grad Rocket MLRS truck that it replaced.

– WR-300 Homar: Larger MLRS-compatible system that fires Lockheed Martin’s guided and unguided 227mm rockets.

– KRO-M120 RAK: Locally developed and built 120mm mortar system mounted on Polish high-speed Patria AMV wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC).

Beyond rearmament: Poland’s template also overhauls force and command structure, warfare doctrine and modernizes military specialty training curriculum up to Nato standards.

In 2011, Poland made the decision to replace entirely its Soviet-era AK-47s with the Polish-developed Kbs Beryl assault rifle, which can use Nato standard ammunition.

Poland seeks to procure diesel-electric submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) from Germany or Sweden.

In March 2015, Poland announced plans to buy Tomahawk cruise missiles. If the US grants the sale, Poland would be only the third nation to have Tomahawks after America and Britain.

THE GOVERNMENT of Poland is endeavoring to restart the stalled military modernization of Eastern Europe, writes freelance writer on geopolitics and military events, Kevin Brent.

Its multi-billion dollar plan to buy US Patriot surface-to-air missiles and helicopters will see the country take a lead role in strengthening the region’s military might as it takes a proactive stance.

The move to secure the largest missile deal in Polish history – US$7 billion (almost 6.2 billion euro) for the Patriots alone – would also enable Polish defense firms to increase their footprint in Eastern European markets.

Using the cooperation framework of the Visegrad Group – Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, plus Romania and Bulgaria, Poland will secure funding through government grants, banks and export loans.

It comes just over a year after the Visegrad Four nations agreed to coordinate defense procurement and development in direct response to events in Ukraine.

However, an expectation of cost offsets from Western Europe and the United States for Poland’s Visegrad partners was never realized due to ongoing economic problems in Europe and America as well as a desire among US and western European leaders not to antagonize Russia.

Nevertheless, Poland continued independently with its plans for a US$37 billion (33 billion euro) total overhaul of its own military forces, resulting in the birth of a cost-effective template for modernization and restructuring of any former Warsaw Pact nation to bring it in line with Nato standards.

Poland procured high-cost items such as German Leopard II main battle tanks; US F-16 Falcons armed with joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSM); FFG-7 Class guided missile frigates for the Polish Navy; and Norwegian Kongsberg coastal defense missiles. Most recently, it announced the upcoming purchase of US Patriot missile defense systems from Raytheon.

It also blazed a trail in modernizing Soviet-era equipment at much lower cost than new purchases from the West, such as replacing Soviet-era BMP infantry fighting vehicles with locally built engines, battlefield optics and sensors, combat communications and tactical information systems.

Older Soviet-designed main battle tanks that are no longer fit for the modern battlefield have been upgraded for use behind the front lines, securing vital facilities such as radar and missile sites, airports and other national infrastructure against attacks by special forces or possible insurgents.

For sharper ‘front teeth’, Poland launched Project Regina, leaning heavily on local defence firms and partnering some with foreign firms, to convert or replace Soviet-era 122mm and 152mm tracked and wheeled self-propelled howitzers over to Nato standard 155mm caliber.

In 2014, Poland had five new artillery and rocket systems, all built to Nato standards and all with smart munitions, which made them far superior to the legacy Soviet equipment they replaced.

The Polish template of military modernization is exactly what is needed to bring its fellow former Warsaw Pact Nato members up to par in the immediate future.

It then needs to be tailored to fit the military needs and requirements of each nation it is applied to.

With sound economics applied to the grants and loans, other Eastern European nations could follow Poland’s example and enhance their own forces with modern equipment. In particular, main battle tanks and tactical warplanes are prime weaknesses for these countries and should be a priority on their shopping lists.

In the long-term, licensed domestic production or a procurement programme for Western-designed combat systems across the board would have time to develop properly and without bankrupting the economies of Eastern Europe to pay for it.

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